Writing a review of a book that one is predisposed to enjoy is a challenge, especially while your kid is asking for his third bowl of Kashi GoLean cereal and demanding an explanation as to why the Christmas tree and all of the decorations disappeared last night (Bonus Parenting Tip! Take down your holiday decorations while your child is sleeping! It’ll spare you a whole lot of crying, and when he wakes up you can tell him that Santa came by last night and picked everything up so that it’ll be safe until next Christmas!).
Anyway. Alternadad, Neal Pollack’s account of his foray into fatherhood, is great. (Regular readers will know Neal from an interview I did with him last year.) His story, I suspect, mirrors many of ours – thirtysomething new dad faces lots of trials, tribulations, laughs, and heartaches as he tries to maintain his “hipster” status while taking on the incredible responsibility of fatherhood. (I say “hipster” because, frankly, I’m sick to death of having the “hipster parent” concept shoved down my throat, even though I’m apparently one myself.)
The book contains many surprises, not the least of which is the somewhat misleading title. There’s been a lot of discussion of late about our generation of parents, whose kids wear Husker Du onesies and who are (literally) rocked to sleep with alt-rock tunes. Given the title, one might expect to find a manifesto for the ubercool dad. Pollack goes deeper than expected – the notion of “alternadad” becomes that of identity, how much one can hope to retain when one of life’s biggest changes occurs, and how one balances individuality with the needs of and the responsibilities towards one’s family. The issues Neal faces – putting food on the table, keeping a roof overhead, raising a smart and healthy child, keeping the family safe, maintaining a marriage – are timeless. The Pollacks face some modern challenges – health insurance and finding good daycare are two problems that plague them through the book – but what’s striking is that this is a story that my dad could read and appreciate. And he is a big Lou Rawls fan.
Of course, the book has a lot of laughs – I won’t spoil any, but bloggers who delight in regaling their readers with shit stories will get a schooling during the book’s prologue. And there are plenty of poignant moments as well – Elijah’s birth is harrowing, and the Pollacks’ struggle to get Elijah to stop biting his classmates reveals the frustration and heartache many of us have experienced when others tell us that our kids are “difficult”.
Ultimately, Alternadad works because it’s got a lot of heart. Neal tells his story without the shrill judgment and holier-than-thou attitude that’s prevalent in so many parenting books and blogs. It’s an honest, funny, and ultimately moving story, one that dads (and moms) will love. (If that isn’t a cheesy Joel Siegal-esque endorsement, I don’t know what is.)